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Brexit: where is that cake now, Boris?

2018-01-28 06:18:50

Even though I have spent three weeks in Scotland, at Hamilton Sheriff Court, focusing on the Errington Cheese case, and am off back for a few more days this week – this time to give evidence – the long-running saga of Brexit hasn't lost any of its unreality.

I managed to read the Davis speech with growing incredulity as he presented the EU fait accomplis as "the bridge that we plan to build, to smooth the path to our new relationship with the EU after Brexit".

What we were calling the "vassal state" scenario long before Rees Mogg appropriated the term becomes a "strictly time limited implementation period, which forms a sound basis for the UK’s future prosperity".

The fact that, even now, an extension is being talked of, and Mrs May is said to have abandoned her Lancaster House anniversary speech, is neither here nor there. According to Mr Davis, the EU's idea of transition "allows us to grasp the benefits of Brexit by setting in place the fundamental building blocks for the country as we leave".

Of course, Mr Davis doesn't actually say it's all the EU's idea, and he's still prattling on about "implementation" rather than transition. This bridge, he says, "will give more certainty and clarity" for ports like Teesport (where he was speaking) and businesses right across the UK and Europe.

Maybe Davis actually believes the sort of rubbish he's spouting, even if Pete was less than impressed. But, if it's even possible, Booker is even less impressed.

Almost the only clear thing emerging from the murk shrouding our tortuous progress towards Brexit, he writes in his column, "is how completely we can now forget last year's fatuous claim by Boris Johnson that, on leaving the EU, we could somehow 'have our cake and eat it'".

Unless you are Rees Mogg, gone are the days when we could fantasise that in March 2019 we shall "with one mighty bound be free": out of the EU and free to sign all those wonderful trade deals with the rest of the world. It has finally dawned on a goodly proportion of the population that extricating ourselves from the EU is far more complicated than our politicians ever realised it would be.

Of course, a lot of us knew all along that that it was going to be complicated, but then us mere mortals clearly don't have the capability for self-delusion that sustains our political masters and their media handmaidens.

As a result, Booker writes, neither side is remotely prepared for all the hugely costly border controls needing to be installed once we leave the single market. That makes it inevitable that "transition period" will almost certainly more than two years.

Having contributed to screwing up any rational approach to Brexit – about which they need to be reminded at every opportunity – Rees Mogg and his pals have contributed to the situation where, despite leaving the EU, we will remain essentially still in it.

Parliament has nicely rolled over to give us that absurd EU Withdrawal Bill, whereby we turn all EU laws into UK law. By this means, we can always pretend that we have somehow "taken back control", even though we end up having to go cap in hand to the EU for every decision of consequence.

An indication of how perilous that might be comes with a recent report about the UK's potential problems with the Aviation Safety Agency. The European Commission is saying that "UK membership of EASA is not possible", which means all sorts of complications when it comes to aircraft manufacturing and repair and related matters.

This is one of many such issues that aren't going to go away and, while we might get temporary relief during the (prolonged) transitional period, aviation is going to come back to haunt us. The UK will have to settle an aviation agreement with the EU along the lines of those agreed with the United States and Canada, and that isn't going to come easy.

But this is but a detail. Equally dawning are the damaging consequences likely to face much of the largest part of our export trade, worth £230 billion a year: by no means all of which could be remedied by that "bespoke trade deal" that Theresa May still dreams of, let alone by those fondly imagined future deals with other "third countries".

Never, concludes Booker, has it been more obvious that if only we had chosen to leave the EU but stay, like Norway, in the European Economic Area, we need not have got into this mess.

It could have been so different, except that for us to have taken a rational approach was more than any of our current breed of politicians could ever manage.

Having explored in detail for so long what it takes to achieve a successful Brexit, it is getting more than a little tiresome watching the politicians stumble through their fog of ignorance, unaware of even the basics and seemingly unable to learn.

The trouble is that, to maximise the opportunities presented by Brexit, we should have started as soon as the result of the referendum had been declared. The delay has already closed down options and the longer we leave the initiative with the EU, the less chance there is of a satisfactory conclusion.

Obviously, one can understand – and appreciate – the constraints which limit Mrs May's freedom of action, even if those problems are largely of her own making. But now the cold, harsh reality of the "vassal state" scenario is beginning to create stresses within the Conservative Party which could even prove terminal.

Newspapers such as the Telegraph are exploiting these stresses, also pointing to tensions between politicians and the "mandarins" who have supposedly "taken control" and are "forcing a weak Prime Minister" into a soft Brexit.

The paper's journalists (and their editors) are simply unable to cope with the realities of a Brexit that must deal with business and their needs for ongoing access with EU enterprises.

"Simplistic" would be too generous to describe their stance. These are people whose ignorance is matched by the politicians about whom they report. Between them – and especially the "ultra" tendency – they are making such a glorious mess that it can only get worse.

But no matter how much these people think they are making the running, soon enough reality has to intrude. It cannot be hidden or disguised forever and when it rears its head, it will leave them with nowhere to go. Then Mr Johnson's cake will turn into a poison chalice.